Seventeen team draw will create inequalities
The AFL is apparently struggling to decide just how it will structure the 17-team 2011 season, with some worried that the ‘one day in September’ could soon be in October.
The scheduling puzzle has become a science in marketing for all professional leagues, as they try to set marquee match-ups at key points throughout the season.
It’s a science of even greater importance for Australian codes, as they fight for the hearts and minds of sports fans in an increasingly swamped market.
Beyond simply deciding who must play who and when, the unenviable task of setting the schedule involves considering ground availability, special fixtures and team travel loads.
The possibilities have those at the top playing hot potato with the topic, according to Patrick Smith of The Australian. AFL chief executive, Andrew Demetriou and assistant Tony Peek have hand-balled questions to “Mr Maths”, better known as AFL media manager, Patrick Keane.
The system currently employed by the AFL means teams face the other 15 clubs once and then play seven of those teams a second time.
For an answer to the riddle of future seasons, the AFL need only look back to their last 15-team season in 1993.
Each team played each other once, including a bye, in the opening 15 rounds. In round 16 they played their round one opponent again at the opposite venue and so on for the final seven games.
This system left seven teams with two byes; to combat this disparity, the competition included four rounds (four, five, 19 and 20) with only six games, providing the extra bye for the remaining eight teams.
In 2011 this would leave 17 rounds to complete the first ‘round robin’ followed by the repetition of rounds one to five.
With five teams taking the extra bye, the remaining 12 teams would have their second break in one of six rounds featuring just seven games.
The system presents a built-in disadvantage for teams who play the reigning premiers twice, as opposed to teams who play last year’s wooden spooners twice.
But this anomaly has been overlooked for some time.
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